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Democracy and its Discontents


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to MA students in Philosophy 60 EC, specialisation Philosophical Perspectives on Politics and the Economy.


In this seminar we will discuss the meaning and significance of democracy, the rule of the people. What would it mean for the people to rule themselves? What is it to speak of a “will of the people”, and how can it be known or identified? And who are "the people" to begin with? We will consider a variety of theoretical perspectives on democracy, and discuss some of the contemporary challenges democratic theorists face.

Course objectives

This course aims to give students an understanding of the most important strands of democratic theory and some of the challenges these theories face in the contemporary world.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of :

  • the most important strands of democratic theory;

  • some of the challenges these theories face in the contemporary world.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • critically analyse recent literature in democratic theory;

  • identify, articulate and critically assess key concepts and arguments in this area.


See: MA Philosophy 60 EC

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hrs = 280 hours

  • Attending seminars (13 weeks x 3 hours): 39 hours

  • Studying the compulsory literature: 121 hours

  • Completing assignments and papers: 120 hours

Assessment method


  • Presentation, participation, and weekly discussion notes (10%)

  • Midterm paper (30%)

  • Final paper (60%)

Attendance and class participation is a mandatory requirement for taking the tests or resit.


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several subtests (midterm paper, final paper, etc.). A subtest can be graded as unsatisfactory.


The resit consists of one examination for all parts at once, consisting of a paper. The grade will replace previously earned grades for subtests.
Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination(s) cannot take the resit.

Exam review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • announcements

  • posting of course materials.

Reading list

The full reading list will be made available at the beginning of the course. This year's reading list will include selections from the following books, among others:

  • Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 2012. The Major Political Writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Trans. John T. Scott. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

  • Schmitt, Carl. 1988. The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Achen, Christopher H. and Larry M. Bartels. 2016. Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  • Meckstroth, Christopher. The Struggle for Democracy: Paradoxes of Progress and the Politics of Change. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number, which can be found in the timetables for courses and exams.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. T. (Thomas) Fossen


Not applicable.